Cafe Sarajevo episode 1 (bluemouth inc.) 2018 SummerWorks Review

Image of cast from Cafe Sarajevo

bluemouth inc. has brought together a unique, engaging, and thought-provoking immersive performance to the 2018 SummerWorks Festival. Café Sarajevo is a performance inspired by the 1971 televised debate between French theorist Michel Foucault and American linguist Noam Chomsky.

It takes the form of a live podcast that explores the idea of borders that divide and unite humanity. Through the use of recorded elements, virtual reality, text, audience participation, dance, and music, this experience is lively, exciting and unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

The audience is given headphones by which they hear the podcast as it happens around them and Google Cardboard for the VR element of the show. Once inside, small stools are surrounded by sound equipment and a whole assortment of random items carefully placed about.

Café Sarajevo begins with a game, like one of those 80’s style game shows hosted by a peppy aerobics instructor. It involves members of the audience. Two people instruct two other people wearing blindfolds where to find food, shelter, and water — items scattered on the floor. It’s a fun team building exercise that both works and doesn’t. But it’s fun, and it allows people to let their guard down.

The story behind Café Sarajevo began with Lucy Simic. She was inspired by the Foucault Chomsky debate around 2016 when it became clear that Donald Trump had a high chance of becoming the next American president. When what most people feared happened, it sparked a downward spiral of chaos, violence, and outrage.

Simic took to the streets of Washington during the Women’s March. She was inspired to go back and visit her homeland of Bosnia, to war-torn Sarajevo to reconnect with the land her parents came from.

The podcast – this is episode one – that plays out explores her journey to Sarajevo. The people she connects with and how something as simple as a cup of coffee is able to both connect and distance her from the locals.

There are so many elements jam packed into this hour-long experience that, at times, the story gets lost on me. Between the dialogue happening in the headphones, the intriguing world thousands of miles away playing out on my Google goggles, the images projected on the walls, and even the dance-breaks taking place a mere foot away from me, it’s hard to know what exactly to focus on. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. The experience as a whole is so engaging that the entertainment is there no matter how you take it in.

The dance breaks are pretty, and fun to watch. Mariel Marshell is this tiny person who is light on her feet and incredibly elegant as she floats across the chaotic stage. It’s almost bizarre watching her as she and everyone else are still wearing their large headphones during the dance breaks. It leaves no room for suspension of belief, you’re on a sound stage.

With so many technical elements, there is always lots of room for technical glitches.  There are moments as the frenetic staging of the performances take the actors away from an immediate microphone, so the audio on the headphones cuts out periodically. Also, we were warned pre-show that it’s possible for the Google goggles to lose connectivity but that it would work itself out pretty quickly. This happened to me a few times actually, and there were times where a certain scene that everyone else was supposed to be seeing was lost on me.

If you are worried about audience participation you don’t have to be, it is all voluntary. The direct audience participation is discussed with those involved prior to the beginning of the show, aside from strange physical games, people from the audience are asked to read characters from a script for the audio. You don’t need to agree to a role if you’re not comfortable with being involved.

Café Sarajevo is a great experience that is politically driven and highly engaging. It’ll get you thinking critically, and it’s simply a lot of fun. It’s certainly worth seeing.


Café Sarajevo episode 1  plays at The Toronto Media Arts Centre (32 Lisgar St).

Remaining Performances:

  • Saturday August 18th 6:15 pm – 7:30 pm
  • Saturday August 18th 9:15 pm – 10:30 pm
  • Sunday August 19th 6:15 pm – 7:30 pm

SummerWorks tickets are now Pay What You Decide at $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level. Tickets are available at the performance venue (cash only), online, by calling 416-732-4116, and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West), open August 9-19 from 12pm-8pm. Cash and credit accepted.

Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 4 shows.

Photo by Jeremy Minaugh